Postcards from the Future – Business 2020

March 1, 2011

I was recently asked by the Greater City of Dandenong to ponder on the future of business and work and decided to turn it into an article for them, which has just come out in there March – May edition of Stakeholder


I’m sitting here in Dandenong in the year 2020 reflecting on my belief that in the last 20 years we’ve moved forward 100 technological years and contemplating where the journey has taken us and our businesses.

In 2020, by far the most fundamental change looking back is that we have all irrevocably moved our businesses and lives into a blended real world and cyberspace existence.

In the late 1990’s and 2000’s most businesses had static websites overflowing with promotional, informational and contact details, but by the end of 2010 a grassroots movement, many considered a fad then, had begun to take permanent hold – social business.

This new way of being and seeing transformed our cyber presence and websites from a flat one dimensional glorified online brochure into a multilayered user centric online portal that seamlessly mixed and included social media, online conversations, customer interactions, live chat, video conferencing with real time insights from staff, users, suppliers, stakeholders, prospects and others all available wherever and whenever we wanted it.

Today this has gone far beyond Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, which in the early 2000’s hadn’t yet existed and by 2010 had become major online players and phenomena’s; to now in 2020 having become less important in their own right and more noted for having been the vanguards and innovators of what was to come.

We now take for granted our mobile computers (MC) and handheld devices that feed us real time information about the places we’re walking into and around. These devices have become our constantly-on personal assistant and speak seamlessly with the world around us on our behalf, negotiating travel routes, notifying us of who and what’s around and vetting and presenting the world to us in a way compatible with our ever changing needs and circumstances.

We now shift information, virtual products and services backwards and forwards on them with ease and little thought.

We use them to guide us through our lives, the streets, shopping malls and supermarket aisles. We use them to pay and get paid for all our products and services and they have become our cyber world’s virtual umbilical cord keeping us connected and up to date with our real world.

Our board rooms and offices have also transformed in the last decade as Baby Boomers have retired on mass. Gen X and Y’s have moved into the decision making roles and begun to steer the boardrooms around the world, guiding their Generation Z employees and lamenting how these new up and coming employees see the world and work so differently from the way they do.

The Manager of 2020 now oversees a diverse team of people and tasks. One third of their workforce does not work on-site and rarely, if ever, physically meets with their co-workers. They are often not even in the same country as the search for the best and brightest employees regularly sees us scouring the globe and employing people to work for us from wherever they are.

Today’s outstanding managers have learnt to juggle the demands of physical and virtual employees and worlds; is able to work in fast iterative cycles; is constantly reviewing and innovating products, services and procedures against a global “small village” background and knows that a profitable robust business is a seamless blend of off and on line activities.

Business models have also evolved. Where once we may have jealously guarded our intellectual property and unique know-how, we now seek ways to leverage and make best use of these by forming alliances with other business and providers servicing similar and complimentary markets, knowing that in this collaborative offering there is strength, growth and profitability for all partners.

Our Australian centric world view has increasingly come to include a solid focus on China and India as these two countries continue to flex their economic power and open up markets and opportunities to us that we had not had before.

New industries and new jobs have also evolved and the old adage that 60% of the jobs and tasks we will be doing in the next ten years still rings as true as it has for the last twenty years.

In the 2010’s the hot jobs included online community evangelists, gaming designers, organic farmers, financial and investment advisors and retirement consultants.

In 2020 we have a huge demand for telematics engineers, human organ designers and information forecasters.
In the past forty years we have lived through the eye of a technological revolution which has forever changed and reshaped our existence, the way we see ourselves, others and the world we live in.

It has flattened the globe and made it transparent giving us all the opportunity to see the world from our unique vantage point and to tap into people, places, thinking and products that previously only existed in the realms of science fiction and imagination.

This new way of being and seeing has demanded that we evolve the way we work and has insisted that we maintain a constant eye on the future.

We must celebrate what we have already achieved, but stand ready with the knowledge that what we have done and have achieved was perfect in its time, but that tomorrow it may no longer serve us as well.

As I look back on the last two decades and reflect on those businesses that have continued to thrive and grow they all share common characteristics. They are agile, know who and what they are giving them a strong core which allows them to flex easily as adversity and opportunity finds them and to take profitable advantage of whatever the future may offer.